Being from Nigeria, I knew that it was not my mother’s traditional cooking I would be coming to at Mercersburg. Yet, when I got onto campus, upon seeing my first meal I was shocked. Because students were all in quarantine, understandably, it was cold-packed food made for every student and brought to their doors. But coming from rich, cultured, and tasteful food to an unsalted boiled potato with a few green beans was heavily disappointing. Now, the food isn’t like that every day, and it hasn’t been like that since we switched to buffet style. Nevertheless, to say the least, the gap between the food here and what I am used to at home is rather large.
In Nigeria, traditional food features recipes such as jollof rice, ofada stew, fried plantains, and I most definitely knew that I should not be expecting any of that. After all, I’m not in Nigeria anymore, so why should I expect Nigerian food? But what I saw and experienced was also not typical “American” food. I expected grilled cheese, pasta, and burgers. (Very stereotypical, I know.) While they do serve these on some days, on other days I’m in a state of utter confusion as to what has been put in front of me.
Now I understand that cooking for a lot of people is extremely hard and trying to satisfy everyone’s taste and what they’re used to is basically impossible. Overall, I think they do a good job in providing typical “school lunch” food but they have some off days.
Eager to hear more opinions, I went around South Cottage and asked a few international students their opinions on the food here and how they feel it compares to what they’re used to. Alice Hwang ‘22 said, “It’s hard to adjust as Korean food is more rice-based than flour. The food here also lacks diversity. They try to serve various international foods but they’re not very good at authenticating them, but I appreciate the effort.” Paula Ante Wright ‘22 from Ecuador said, “I find it really hard to find healthy options because it’s heavy carbs and deep-fried food every day.” Koko Chen ‘23 said, “The Chinese food is really Americanized to suit the American taste. I appreciate the dining hall trying sometimes but it just doesn’t always work. I just feel like we eat the same thing every day.” Jasmine Zhu ‘23 from China said, “I like the opportunity to explore new food and there are some meals I enjoy but my only issue is the lack of diversity in vegetables. A lot of the food at home is fresh vegetables, in like a stew, but it’s not fresh here.” Zhu also suggested the idea of having international students who are good cooks help out in the kitchen on special occasions to celebrate and share a part of their culture with the school which I think is a very nice idea and makes sure the dishes are being prepared correctly.
For many international students, this switch from comfortable, familiar foods creates a huge imbalance. While we know we shouldn’t be expecting traditional home cooking, the initial shock of the transition is always a point of conversation. However, the effort and love that goes into the food preparation are respected and appreciated. The staff is so kind and we are grateful for the effort that goes towards trying to make food that we are used to and can feel at home with. For that, we say a huge thank you to Meriwether Godsey.